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Tribute to Kuchipudi exponent Ardhanareeswaram Venkat
- Vijay Shanker

August 25, 2022

It was a shock to learn of the untimely demise of Hyderabad based Kuchipudi exponent Venkateswara Rao on 8th August 2022 after a prolonged illness. He was 58. He leaves behind his dancer wife Prasanti, son Rithwik and daughter Charmila. Both Rithwik and Charmila are dancers and poised to take the legacy forward.

Ardhanareeswaram Venkat
Venkat with family

Venkat hailed from Elluru in Andhra Pradesh and was one of the foremost disciples of veteran traditional mentor Korada Narasimha Rao, who also hailed from Elluru. Venkat was a brilliant dancer and teacher. In 1988, he established Nritya Darpana, his dance academy in Hyderabad, where he has trained several dance aspirants. Venkat was particularly known for the rendering of the Ardhanareeswara concept, which was his masterpiece act, hence he was popularly known as Ardhanareeswaram Venkat. The aharya of Ardhanareeswar was quite impressive, wherein the right side of the face would depict Lord Shiva with half moustache, the typical 'jata' with Ganga seated along with chandrakala and serpent around the neck; the left side would depict Parvati, hence the blouse and the partial red vermillion kumkum on the forehead along with other accessories. In the performance, the right side again would display vibrant movements and the left the soft and elegant movements. On the front of the face, a piece of cloth is stuck to the hair, which is held by the hand consistently during the performance, in order to differentiate between Shiva and Shakti, in other words the masculine and the feminine power. It was a rare feat and I remember having witnessed his performance for the first time when he performed for the Kuchipudi festival organized by Andhra Mahasabha in Mumbai. He was applauded for this unique presentation.

Ardhanareeswaram Venkat

Simhanandini was a traditional number that incorporated the goddess and her vahana - the lion, hence while dancing, the dancer portrays the complete picture of lion on the canvas. This is a unique traditional composition performed by selected performers who learnt from traditional mentors. In the traditional system of learning dance, dancers used to dance on the banks of the river on the sands which was not an easy task as it was painful for the dancers but it would improve the leg muscles. When you dance on the sands, the feet go inside the sand and to take it out you need to strike firmly. While dancing on the sands you could create images; that's how the dances like Simhanandini or Mayura Kautvam emerged, wherein the dancer while dancing could gradually create the image of the lion or the peacock. Other compositions of Venkat includes Kalika Vijayam that portrays the victory of goddess Ammanaru Kalika and Milita Sangeeta that features the grand and vibrant dance of Nataraja, blending well with rhythmic movements and stylized poses. Venkat had choreographed the Telugu version of Tiruppavai with 30 lyrics in praise of Andal - incarnate of goddess Bhudevi. His latest innovative choreography was Nritya Chitra Jugalbandi involving dance with paintings in four styles namely Kuchipudi, Kathak, Bharatanatyam and Perini Natyam.

Venkat had 8 world records to his credit, including Guinness World Records, Global World Records, Limca Book of Records and Telugu Book of Records, particularly for rendering 3,900 shows of Ardhanareeswaram. He was also credited for the rendering of traditional numbers like Uloopi, Jakkulapurandri, Natya Hela, Simhanandini and Mayura Kautvam. Venkat had an MPhil (aesthetics) and Phd degree in dance, and was also a research fellow of HRD dept, Government of India and Research Fellow of Andhra Pradesh Government too. He performed for several festivals and regularly performed in Hong Kong, Thailand, Dubai, Sharjah, Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka.

Ardhanareeswaram Venkat - Ardhanareeswara concept
Ardhanareeswara concept

Venkat was bestowed with several honours, awards and accolades like Siddhendra Yogi Award by Andhra Pradesh State Government, Simhataalam - lion headed golden bracelet presented as age old custom to honor artistes, Kanakaabhishekam - gold coin shower of the age old tradition, best classical dancer from Rasamayi organization in Dubai, Award of Honour from International Minzar Mahotsav from Chamba, Himachal Pradesh and several others.

Venkat was a devoted performer and has performed for several occasions both in India and abroad. His family is seeking support from the local Andhra government and Telangana government. In fact, the government should have some provisions for artistes who are old, retired or suffering from some illness, as it is not easy for artistes to make both ends meet and to take the legacy forward.

Kuchipudi exponent and mentor Radha Mohan says, "Being the cultural vice-president of Andhra Mahasabha, we had organized the Kuchipudi festival and several performers from Andhra Pradesh were invited to perform. His performance was outstanding and the only one to perform in the typical Ardhanareeswara aharya with stylized make-up and costume, which was his speciality. I took him to Hong Kong where his performance was well appreciated and that was his first performance abroad. It is sad that he has left us so soon. May his soul rest in peace and may god give power and strength to the family to bear the loss."

Vijay Shanker
Vijay Shanker is a Kuchipudi and Kathakali exponent, teacher, bilingual journalist, arts critic and actor.

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